Thanks to the quick pace of studying matrices, MST124’s TMA03 was handed in early, putting me a month ahead of schedule in both modules.  I’ve decided to concentrate on just maths revision for the last few months of the academic year, so switched back to TM129 to complete the last block, Linux.

The first few weeks have many inconsistencies, typos, and factual errors, but then the block improves.  Actually, despite working professionally with Linux, I came to enjoy the block.  The materials weren’t personally challenging, but the ePortfolio again provided fun avenues for self-directed learning.  (Bonus: I picked up many tips.)

A minor issue was the ePortfolio back loading.  The ePortfolio works best if you work on it as you go.  This both checks current understanding, and distributes the workload.  The Linux block has small, mundane activities at the beginning, and several large, interesting ones after completing the final week of study.  This results in students crushed with many longer ePortfolio activities, then the final TMA, then the EMA, in consecutive batterings.  I feel the module team may have missed this perspective.

The TMA is also a bit questionable.  Several marks aren’t covered at all in the materials … which isn’t necessarily bad.  Independent research is clearly indicated, but methods of evaluation weren’t discussed, so it’s testing students’ innate ability rather than understanding of the learning objectives.  Some marks probably test checking Linux man pages … an answer does appear in a man page, but not the related page, giving me ambiguous feelings.  One question involves Intellectual Property law, entirely absent from module materials (and learning objectives), which I feel entirely inappropriate given the complexity of IP law.  Difficulty linking assessment questions to learning objectives has been a consistent issue with this presentation of TM129.  (Another question confuses “Linux” with “Ubuntu” …)

I’m already working on the EMA’s notes.  I doubt I’ll complete it this week as hoped, though.  TM129 TMA02 still isn’t back, but I’m hoping for that this week, too.  I hope to switch back to maths while I’m still ahead there.

Six years is a long time to work on anything.  I’ve only had one job which lasted longer than that.  (In fairness, so did my dad … Since he only ever really had one job.)  But it’s a bit of a rush to realise I’ve only got four more final prep weeks ahead of me.

How’d it go this year?  I took many fewer MOOCs, but learned much more.  This summer’s work has been worth well more than twice what I’ve been through with TU100 so far at the OU.  Computer science and object-oriented programming were covered in far more depth than just introductions, abstract program design was probably at introduction level (possibly a bit lower), and my mathematics refresher was very strong: It seems to have covered all of MU123.  And all of it was free!

I’ve also gotten cosy with this year’s modules.

For MST124, as I said, my Khan Academy prep seems to have taken me through everything I would have been exposed to in MU123.  Additionally, I’ve worked through the “boot camp” for MST124 (a series of practice tests and live/recorded tutorials reviewing pre-MST124 maths), and the first two units of MST124.

MST124 is unique compared to other modules I’ve been exposed to or heard about at the OU: They recommend you open your books and start going through the material as soon as you get them.  They know that this stuff is difficult for some people, and give us as much time to get through it as possible.  So even though I’d planned on only getting a week ahead with my study, I’ve done as recommended, and am three or four weeks in.  It’s going really well so far, with only some silly and redundant trigonometric concepts giving me pause.

For anybody considering MST124, here’s my recommendation for preparation: Don’t bother with the “Revise and Refresh” learning materials: They’re rubbish.  But use the quizzes to check your level, and definitely do the tutorials, at least the recorded ones.  For any gaps the quizzes turn up, use Khan Academy.  Or your favourite YouTube resource that explains to your learning style.  (The actual MST124 materials are fantastic, though.)

I’ve even rattled off my first TMA, which I’ll talk about in a different post.

For TM129, there’s not really much prep work for me to do.  TM129 used to be three separate 10 credit modules which have been grouped into a monolithic 30 credit module.  These previous modules are preserved in TM129’s three blocks: robotics, computer networks, and Linux.

The second two blocks don’t need much explanation: I work professionally in both of these fields at a level higher than that covered in the module, so there won’t be much for me to wrap my head around.

I’ve only been through the first week of the robotics block, but it seems I’ve inadvertently had the perfect preparation for that: the Begin Robotics MOOC presented by the University of Reading on FutureLearn.  A lot of the same material is covered, with the academics stripped out of it in the MOOC.  It looks as though the MOOC went into more depth into cybernetics, but I’ll know more later.

So that takes care of the TM129 content, but not its processes: The reports, the studying, assignments … the ePortfolio …

Well, I’ve done prep work for all of that, too, already: It was called TU100.

The school I work at is in its second week of the year, things are held together with Sellotape and bailing wire and just about functional, so of course I spent most of my morning dodging in and out of the new module sites for TM129 and MST124.

The nearly-default Moodle theme I familiarised myself with last year has been reskinned with a flat theme.  It’s easy on the eyes and extremely usable on mobile platforms, so thumbs up from me.  (Actually, the high level of usability makes the rest of the OU site a bit embarrassing, really.)  Great UX planning.

MST-124 is about what I expected: A solid university course translated to an online medium.  TM-129 is also about what I expected: Chaos and insanity doled out as if to children.  Well, no, that’s what I expected.  It seems to be more like watered down squash.  It’s what you asked for, just less of it in the same sized glass.

MST-124 (Essential mathematics 1) isn’t bad.  It’s an obviously mature module which has honed its methods over decades.  There’s just the right amount of hand-holding (to me) for things like preparing assignment formatting, progressing from unit to unit, checking knowledge, and asking for help.  The ragged screams and buckets of tears from students in years past have obviously not gone unnoticed, and the result is a very logical, almost soothing trip through intermediate maths.

TM-129 (Technologies in practice) is like someone had a dream about being taught the perfect module, but got it a bit wrong when they woke up and tried to write out all the details before the dream slipped away from memory.  I’m sure somebody thinks it’s highly logical, but it’s really a bit weird.

There are three blocks in TM-129: robotics, networking, and Linux.  The only other organisation to the tutelage is by breaking it into weeks.  So there aren’t units, sections, or sessions, as such.  Just Robotics week 1, Robotics week 2, etc.  It’s my first day with it, but it seems difficult to learn the concepts in a flowing way.  Concepts appear to be explored and limited based on time, rather than a balanced or comprehensive understanding of it.

Thankfully, I’m not here to get an understanding of the topics.  As with TU100, I’m here to gain practice in learning.  I can’t see the networking information, as that’s entirely in a Microsoft book that has yet to be shipped (I hope Microsoft Press isn’t as bad as their edX team), but I don’t see any glaring omissions from the other two topics.  They’re only meant to be introductions, so it’s possible they’re as useless as OpenLearn MOOCs, or they could be dead useful.  I probably won’t be able to offer much of an objective view even after the module’s over, due to my familiarity with all three topics already.

Mostly I’m excited that I can study again.  I enjoy the process.

Well that was earlier than expected!  I didn’t expect them to ship the books for MST124 out for another two weeks, but they were waiting for me when I arrived home yesterday.

The box is heavy.  My son picked up just one of the books inside and grunted under the weight.  It seems to be about a quarter acre of rainforest in the box.  The box contains:

  • MST124 Book A
    • Unit 1: Algebra
    • Unit 2: Graphs and equations
    • Unit 3: Functions
  • MST124 Book B
    • Unit 4: Trigonometry
    • Unit 5: Coordinate geometry and vectors
    • Unit 6: Differentiation
  • MST124 Book C
    • Unit 7: Differentiation methods and integration
    • Unit 8: Integration methods
    • Unit 9: Matrices
  • MST124 Book D
    • Unit 10: Sequences and series
    • Unit 11: Taylor polynomials
    • Unit 12: Complex numbers
  • Computer Algebra Guide (about using Maxima)
  • Handbook (74 page cheat-sheet you can take with you into the exam)
  • MST124 Guide (as “worth while” as every other OU module guide)
  • TMA form PT3 for posting assignments (Ha!)
  • Specimen exam paper, new for this year
  • Contents list

Here’s an “unboxing” photo with a bonus of my study area:

I had a look through the guide, the handbook, and the computer algebra guide, and then searched through they Labyrinth of Hidden OU “Support” Forums to look for anything interesting to do before the site opens.

The first thing of note was that the guide actually encourages students to start as early as possible on the material (literally as soon as they get the books, and before the site opens) and stay ahead until they’re done and it’s time to revise.  Cool!  Finally a module for the hares!

I downloaded and installed Maxima, and will use it as required, but as soon as the module’s over I’ll go back to doing what I used to do: WolframAlpha.  Maxima basically takes the place of requiring everybody to buy an expensive graphing calculator.

Then I looked into typesetting.  I have a lot of conflicting thoughts on the typesetting.  The first is that during the exam, I won’t have a computer to make my work pretty, so I may want to simply practice writing it out by hand for performance sake.  As I browse through the specimen paper, I don’t think this is much of a concern.

So for computer typsetting of my TMAs, I can either use LaTeX or MS Word’s equations.  (Or OpenOffice, I suppose, but I’m intentionally using MS through this degree course.  Another option would have been to use LibreOffice with the TexMaths LaTeX plugin.)  Last night I went through the guides for both.

Going in, I thought that LaTeX would be the better solution, as everybody glows about it.  It’s more work to learn, but apparently worth it in the long run.  In my opinion, the long run would have to be very, very, very long indeed.  It took about five times as long to learn as Word, because in addition to speaking its language for the maths, you also have to build the entire document around it.  Making a decent TMA template would probably take an initial few hours to get it looking as good as Word, with researching all the required functionality.  That said, if I were doing an entire maths degree, or was writing a book or thesis, it’d probably be worth the investment.  It’s absolutely professional quality.

Word, however, was much easier, quicker to learn, and was just barely behind in professionalism.  The only drawback was that the size of dynamic brackets wasn’t as nice as it was in LaTeX.  In exchange, you get to not worry about the rest of the document, easier and more intuitive codes, the ability to avoid codes altogether and instead point-and-click, instant rendering and feedback, and the data is then extremely portable rather than locked in a PDF.  If I need to write equations in another module (as I had to on every TU100 TMA) or elsewhere in life, the Word experience is also more portable.  If I needed complete control and customisation, then I’d probably opt for LaTex, but don’t see that happening in my current life tragectory.  It’s possibly worth it to learn the LaTeX codes, however, as they can be used in the Open University forums.

There are a few pre-module tutorials they’re running through September, and I’ll probably check one or two out, but I’m not that concerned.  After the Khan Academy prep I did this summer, I’m pretty confident already with about half the module.

A couple of months ago, I predicted a score on my EMA between 93% and 95%.  I’m pleased to have outperformed the prediction, and achieved a 98%.  My OAS for the rest of the module had been 97%.  It’s gratifying to see these two numbers so close, as it means my tutor was well calibrated to the overall module requirements, which means I can be confident when I rely on her recommendations going forward.  (Listening to her recommendations definitely helped in this score.)

It is all downhill from here, though.

With my (first draft) final assignment in the can long ago and myself recovered, I can put TU100 firmly in my rearview mirror, much like a fox run over when you’re late for the airport.  I only have to talk about it again when I get my results, which will take a while.  How did I do on my de facto EMA?  Well, let’s take a look at what it covers:

  • A four page report on concepts relating nominally to “appropriate technology” for different socioeconomic landscapes, but in reality it’s … any report ever.  I’ve definitely nailed the structure, speaking to the right audience, defining my terms, and referencing.  But it’s arbitrary and my confidence lacks any justifiable source.  In a worst-case scenario, I could lose 10 out of 30 marks, but realistically probably 5.
  • A 200 word snip from a job application cover letter.  These are essentially free points, so I’m expecting the full 10 marks, but maybe 8.
  • Sense activity, full 50 marks, ‘nough said.
  • Understanding and normalising relational databases.  The technical side of this I’m very confident with, so this is more about my ability to describe the process, and present information in an appropriate form (in this case some tables).  I’ve defined every technical term within an inch of its life.  Maybe I’ve missed something and I’ll miss 2 of the 21 marks available.
  • A task involving understanding the Data Protection Act 1998, and security and encryption.  This task is possibly the best marriage of its explicit and implicit goals, as the explicit goals mentioned are highly relevant, and the implicit goals of tailoring your message to your audience appear to be equally weighted.  I’m again unduly confident here, but we’ll hedge another 2 out of 19 marks available.
  • A page of maths and the creation of a spreadsheet, full 40 marks.
  • Argument mapping.  This one’s difficult, as there’s lots of moving parts.  There’s logic, there’s reading comprehension, there’s technical detailing … It’s specifically stated that there’s no one answer, but that’s whatever the nice version of a lie is.  A fib?  It’s a fib.  The structure and progression of the questions give the game away.  The worst part is that we’re analysing what appears to be an Italian text that’s been run through Google Translate.  I re-did this portion completely three times, so I’m not excessively proud of my chances.  Maybe 25 out of 30 marks.
  • Risk analysis and the data security CIA triad (mentioned briefly in a MOOC review roundup).  So here’s the problem: I think this one is really about presenting information in an easy to understand format.  I’ve therefore shot for the moon on this one and presented it in a non-standard but easy-to-understand format.  This could backfire like a Chevy in winter.  Worst case is maybe 6 out of 10 marks.  On the other hand, I love the irony of taking an unnecessary risk in a task about risk analysis, so I’m not changing it.

This leaves 185 marks in a worst-case scenario from 210 non-skills marks.  That’s 88%.  If we assume that I do similarly dismally on the 40 skills marks (which would be 35), that’s still comfortably in the distinction range.  How likely is my worst case scenario?  Unlikely.  Realistically, I would mark it at 93-95%.

So how do I feel about TU100?  I don’t feel overwhelmingly like it was a waste of my time, but it’s a waste of money.  That much outdated and poorly constructed material is worth maybe £500.  I had a good tutor and good support from other tutors, but not really in line with the amount of money which was spent.  It did, however, give me an excellent chance to practise my skills.  And remind me how much I hate group tasks.  It’s for the best that it’s coming to an end, and I hope they A) pull the plug on Sense, and B) stop telling people not to take Scratch courses ahead of the module if they use Scratch going forward.

And studying at the Open University?  It’s brilliant.  It’s perfectly suited to my lifestyle.  I’m glad I’m taking it slowly, as I hit quite a few personal challenges and had to keep scaling things back over and over, but I was consistently able to keep up with the work.  I’m quite happy with the study prep I did, as it worked well.  I know the rest will be harder than this year, but I’m really looking forward to the next short five years.

Onto the greener pastures of TM129 and MST124, part-time student finance loans for the next academic year opened sometime in the last few days, so that’s sorted.  Much quicker this year than last in many ways.

And that brings me to … The first year of this blog being complete!  And I’ve written a lot.  I have no idea of what I’ll write about during the summer this year, but I’ll find something to keep me busy and learning.  Certainly I’m going to tackle as much of maths as I can before MST124, and somehow I don’t think that OpenLearn is going to be of much help.

After five days of websites, phone calls, and emails, I’m finally enrolled on my next modules for Q62.  I’m finishing out Stage 1 with TM129 (Technologies in practice) and MST124 (Essential mathematics 1).  Enrolment for October 2017 opened on the 9th, and it finally got completely sorted this morning.  The website wouldn’t let me register on the first day, because it thought I was trying to take the modules in America from a UK address.  I don’t even know what that means, but I had to call the next day to sort it out.  Once they corrected that issue, they said I hadn’t sent in proof of residence in the UK.  Finding it pointless to argue what had or hadn’t been done, versus what had or hadn’t been lost by their IT systems, I sent in more proof.  The next hurtle was that they registered me on the phone for the modules, but didn’t tie those modules to my degree, so they wouldn’t count toward it.  (In the long run, this isn’t an issue, but it would have required more fuss next year, since my Stage 1 wouldn’t be cleared, even though I’d taken all the required modules.)  Student Finance England should start taking applications for part-time studies in the 2017/2018 academic year in around mid-May, but putting my SFE CR number in now switched me from just reserving the spot in the module until 20 April to being fully registered in it.

As with TU100, I will be on one of TM129’s final presentations.  The module’s final run is October 2018, but I think it has a February 2018 run before that.  It covers three main areas: Networking, Linux, and Robotics.  I’m glad that the degree is rounding out the ICT experience of its programme with these areas.  I’m extremely familiar with the first two, and a very poor hobbyist in the third.  My six year old son helped me build little toy robots last year, and this year he’s been working with a brilliant snap-together circuitry kit his auntie in America got him for Christmas.  Even though the practical portions of the robotics section is entirely virtual, I’m certain he’ll enjoy sharing those parts together.  It also comes with a copy of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, which was one of my favourite books in seventh grade.

MST124, I’m not ashamed to say, is a bit outside my abilities.  I will not be receiving a distinction on this module.  As only a bare pass is required and the specific outcome does not impact my degree classification in the slightest, I’m using this to full advantage and studying something I know I’ll only do about average on.  The trade-off is that I should learn and grow the most with this module.

I’ve finally found the block descriptions for MU123 and MST124, so here’s what you learn:


  • Basic maths review
  • Vocabulary and notation
  • Types of numbers
  • Statistical summaries (types of averages, significant figures, etc.)
  • Algebra
  • Graphs
  • Inequalities
  • Geometry
  • Advanced algebra
  • Quadratics
  • Statistical pictures
  • Trigonometry
  • Exponentials
  • “Maths everywhere” (which I’m guessing is making it practical, which means story problems)


  • Algebra review
  • Graphs and equations review
  • Functions
  • Trigonometry review
  • Coordinate geometry and vectors
  • Differentiation
  • Differentiation methods and integration
  • Integration methods
  • Matrices
  • Sequences and series
  • Taylor polynomials
  • Complex numbers

Now, why the OU can’t just put this list side-by-side someplace and let people choose is beyond me.  Looking at this, I can see that I had cleared MU123 by the ninth grade, including the level of trigonometry taught there.  I’m about halfway up the MST124 list, having done some differential calculus, but in dire need of a refresher.  I would be bored to tears on MU123.  So even though I’m quite certain I’ll get toward the lower end of between 40% and 84% on my end-of-module exam, MST124’s my route.  (I’ve heard the exam is multiple choice, though, so anything’s possible.)

It also has a revise & review site that opens up next week for early registrants to prepare them in case we’ve forgotten as much maths as we’ve learned.

At the last tutorial I went to, we received an update on the Stage 2 modules for Q62 (and Q67) which are being retired within the next few years.  Some changes are excitingly small, and others are large enough to make me change my plans.

Probably the biggest news is what isn’t changing.  M250 – Object Oriented Java Programming is almost certainly being replaced with another Java module, and might even still be called M250.  This is good news for me, because I was worried after taking the Learn to Code for Data Analysis MOOC on OpenLearn and the news that TM112 included Python that a new Python module would be replacing M250.  I don’t care one way or the other if they teach using Python or Java, object-oriented is object-oriented to me at this point, and the skills seem fairly transferable.  But I’d prefer to have a more mature module than a complete tear-down which would be required by switching to Python.  Hopefully they’ll be able to preserve quite a bit of the existing material and give it a good update in the process.

The largest change is probably happening to the Networking path for Q62.  T216 currently takes 50% of the Stage 2 modules, and is reportedly very difficult.  There are so many great things to study at Stage 2 that I had recently made the decision that I just couldn’t justify the full 60 credits required for it, and so was going to take four programming and developer based modules, instead, and just certify in networking on my own time.

That’s no longer necessary.  T216 is being split into two 30 credit modules, with the first half being taught in Stage 2, and the second half in Stage 3.  Given the effort level reportedly required, this seems like a good idea.  Most importantly, it makes the networking path much more flexible.

It’s not the only module being shrunk, though.  T215, which was the only other 60 credit module in Stage 2, is also becoming a 30 credit module.  The other 30 credits aren’t be replaced, however, as there was apparently a lot of redundancy already with an existing Stage 3 module.  This updates the module and removes the redundancy.

Another largish change is that a new TM254 – Software Engineering module is being introduced.  (Final module code is pending … And everything else, really.)  This includes parts of both M256 and M258, and I imagine replaces both of them … But I’m not entirely clear on this last part.

So here’s the summary of changes:

Stage 1:

TU100 My digital life – Final presentation being taught now, being replaced by TM111 Introduction to computing and information technology 1 (30 credits) and TM112 Introduction to computing and information technology 2 (30 credits)

Stage 2:

M250 Object-oriented Java programming – Final presentation October 2017, replacement also probably M250, or another Java module

T215 Communication and information technologies – Final presentation October 2017, replacement an unnamed 30 credit module

T216 Cisco networking (CCNA) – Final presentation October 2017, replacement TM257 at Stage 2, and TM357 at Stage 3

M256 Software development with Java – Final presentation February 2018, full or partial replacement by TM254 Software engineering

M258 IT project and service management – Final presentation October 2018, full or partial replacement by TM254 Software engineering

Stage 3:

Currently unknown, aside from the addition of TM357 as the second half of the Cisco networking module.

As I’ve said, all this will change my plans.  I had been expecting to take M250, M269, M256 and TT284 (Web technologies, which I think is also just going to be refreshed similar to M250) at Stage 2, and self studying the CCNA.  Now I think I’d like to take M250, M269, TM254 and TM257.  Stage 3 is nearly half a decade away at this point, so I’m not going to worry about it just now.

Completely unrelated, I’ve got my TMA04 submitted.  The topics covered are statistical analysis, creating graphs, determining averages, personal/professional development planning, loops and lists in Sense, and report research & writing.  And probably also referencing.

In US terms, I’d give my report all of a solid C-, but that’s difficult to translate into the OU model.  I also intentionally broke the rules for the PDP section, as I’m not going to lie and pretend the ticky-box method of self reflection is useful for me, so I expect to lose a huge chunk of points for that, but it’s only worth 10 marks anyway.

If it were me grading, I’d take 10 marks off my report, 5 marks off my PDP, none off the Sense stuff, and I’ve probably forgotten 2 marks worth of stuff on the statistical analysis.  Additionally, my tutor seems to take points off the 20 skills marks in direct proportion to marks taken off the rest of the assessment, so that’s another 2 marks off.  All together, I’d score me an 81 on this one.  It makes me wonder how badly I’d have to do in order to fail an assessment.

Edit 2017/2/24: TMA04 results came back last week.  Somehow I scored another 100%.  I can’t really say that this is good news, though, because it highlights how vastly different my expectations are from my tutor’s expectations.  I can’t truly calibrate my expectations with the OU’s until the EMA comes back, but it seems as though there needs to be a large shift.

Edit 2017/4/3: T216 module descriptions now indicate that T216 is being split into TM257 and TM258, both at Stage 2.  As networking once again requires half of the Stage 2 modules, there’s no flexibility to it, and frankly no point to me taking it.  Books off eBay it is!

Edit 2017/8/29: T216’s replacement is now showing as Stage2/Stage3 again.  TM257 and TM357.  Boy do they like change!

Several students on the TU100 module right now are doing their best to work to the study planner.  Some are right on track, some are slightly behind, a few have fallen a fair bit behind.  They all might be headed for something of a wall.

In the early weeks of the module, each part of each block gets a nice, clearly defined week on which to work, then there’s a lengthy, roomy week on which to work on the TMA that covers that block, and then the next part starts the same week the TMA is due.

Then things accelerate a bit, and there’s a bit of a compression to this timing, where the TMA is due just four days after the end of the study week for the relevant parts.  This is mitigated, however, by having two weeks of Christmas Break in the middle to sort things through if you’re particularly under it.

But this TMA, I think, is going to leave some people gasping for air.  TMA04 is due four days before block 3 is finished.

If they pay a lot of attention to the Learning Outcomes, students should notice that nothing in TMA04 is based on part 5, it’s all based on parts 1-4 of block 3.  That means that they should put off starting on part 5 until after their TMA is submitted.

In fairness to the study planner, that is the order in which it shows the module progressing, but I think it’s going to catch out more than a handful.  Additionally, that still only gives a few days to sort out the TMA, and around half of the points of the assignment are covered in part 4.

If you can at all help it, get a few weeks out ahead of the study planner, stay ahead, and don’t trust the study planner.  (I say this having only barely gotten ahead again, and looking forward to the next block which says, basically, under no circumstances attempt to start this block early, due to collaborative project purposes.  Good luck on your time management!)

Blank page syndrome does not only hit creative writers.  I learned in the Systematic Program Design MOOC some great ways of attacking it when it hits programmers.

It can also rear its head when sitting down to a new TMA.  Okay, so it pretty much always rears its head on TMAs.  Or not so much rears its head, but just kind of stares at you expectantly since it never put its head down since the last time it reared away.

For me, a plan of what to do before, during, and after studying a block has been a good way to attack a TMA:

  1. I skim the TMA questions for low-hanging fruit.  These are questions which require no planning, little thinking, and generally a lot of button pushing.  On TU100, the Sense programs fall into that category for me, but they won’t for everybody.  It might be the maths questions, or a library searching exercise, short-form answers, or something else.  But look for some low-hanging fruit, preferably that you can do before even studying the associated block.  Even if it’s wrong (for now), it’s in the TMA, the TMA isn’t blank, and you’re off to the races.
  2. I create a TMA Notes document.  I start by taking notes on each question itself.  For example, I highlight specific words I need to address in my answer.  If I know the OU has a specific definition for something it’s asking for, I might put that definition in these notes.  (The OU drills students on indentifying “Content” and “Process” words in TMAs, with the process words being the required tasks central to the TMA question.  It’s a good idea to use the OU’s definitions of these words when considering how to answer them.)
  3. While going about my study, if something jumps out as relevant to a TMA question, I’ll quickly jot it down in the TMA notes.  I don’t work on it at all, so as not to interrupt my study flow.
  4. After finishing the block study, I next finish up my TMA notes.  This may (okay, almost certainly will) include writing notes on articles, finding tools I’ll need to use and linking to them, gathering references (using online tools), or other necessary planning.
  5. I attack the actual TMA.  If I’ve done my planning right, I shouldn’t need to consult any other source at this point than those in my TMA notes.  All the work should have been done by this point, so it’s just a matter of writing it out, and wrestling it into the word count.  I label this as my first draft.

If I did step 4 right, I don’t have to worry so much about the blank page.  Sometimes I’ll literally just write a line from my notes to get me started, knowing I’ll have to go back and write something that makes sense later.  Heck, once I just re-wrote my bullet point notes into paragraph form because I was so desparate, and went back to edit it later.  It was ugly, but it got me past the blank page.

If anybody’s interested in the rest of my TMA plan, after the blank page is gone, here it is:

  1. I wait at least 24 hours, then open up the original TMA questions (not my notes) and go over each question part, making certain that I’ve answered the question.  I tidy up what needs tidying, correct what needs correcting, then label the result as my second draft.
  2. I then forget about it (or try to) until the tutorial in which the TMA will be discussed.  I’ve been lucky thus far to have my second draft done by the time that rolls around, but I don’t know if that luck will hold.  Anyway, I ask questions about anything I’m not certain of, fix what needs fixing, and finally have my final draft.
  3. After all that, I still don’t submit quite yet.  I give it another 24 hour cool-off period, give it a final read-through, and then dump it into the submission site.

These final steps don’t always work ad consilium, but my tutorials have thus far come just before the TMA cut-off date.  It does mean that I need to finish up my studying a minimum of half a week before the TMA due date, but I think the plan spreads the work as well as it can throughout the planner.

On a related note, TU100 TMA02 is in the can.  It’ll probably be about two weeks before it comes back.  I’m expecting the result to be on par with the last one.  It’s certainly more ambiguous than TMA01, so it could come in lower than expected.

2016/12/12 Edit: TMA02 returned: 100!  Though no marks were deducted, I was still given a lot of great feedback for future TMAs, such as using comments in Sense and avoiding the Word formula builder.